UNLESS POVERTY is eradicated, no legal restriction can solve the problem of child labour, says Dr Venkat Narayana in his study on problems of child labour in rural Karnataka. He has been awarded a Ph D for his thesis, by Bangalore University. According to him, the programmes launched by the government render little help for, most of the amount allotted to these schemes is squandered away by influential people and leaders who administer these schemes. The government spends thousands of crores on “poverty alleviation programmes”. The truth is that only a few paise out of each rupee spent reaches the targeted groups. Effective measures have to be undertaken to see that the targeted groups receive the benefits of the poverty alleviation programmes.
He has conducted his study under the supervision of Dr K G Gayathridevi, Professor, ISEC, Bangalore. He is currently working with ISEC, Bangalore, in a development project and has done four projects on child labour in the past. Based on the findings of the study, Venkat Narayan says that child labour is a scourge that must be totally eliminated. There cannot be two opinions on that. However, it is necessary to realize that it cannot be eradicated overnight. Hence, till child labour is abolished, it is imperative that medical aid or assistance be provided to these child labourers who take ill on account of the hazardous nature of work they are required to do. State governments should enact laws to oblige employers to provide adequate relief to them and should also see to it that these laws are enforced effectively.
It is true that child labourers help their families generate additional income. This does not mean that they should be asked to work always. Ways and means to achieve this need to be found and concrete schemes should be implemented effectively to raise the income of the households; these may not be the only solutions to solve the problem. This is because, even after a rise in income, this problem may exist. Hence, parents should be persuaded to send their children to schools. Compulsory primary education of good quality should also be pro-vided to solve the problem. The fundamental reason behind the perpetual existence of child labour is poverty. Therefore, abolition of child labour is not favoured by the parents of child labourers. It leads to a reduction in family income and consequently to a lower standard of living. If child labour is banned without arranging alternative sources of income, frictions may arise in the family and the child may be forced to beg, pickpocket or go hungry. In the absence of possible alternatives, abolition of child labour is likely to aggravate rather than mitigate their misery and hardship. In the years to come, each family should be assured of a certain minimum income by creating jobs for the men and women who are ready to work. This is possible when more employment opportunities are created for the adults through effective enforcement of all the extant anti-poverty programmes like Food for Work Programme, Sampoorna Grama Swarojgar Yojana (SGSY) and Sampoorna Grama Rojgar Yojana (SGRY).
Venkat Narayan’s study is an attempt to examine the prevalence of child labour in rural Karnataka and its contribution to livelihood security in rural households. Primary data has been collected from two villages with diverse socio-economic backgrounds in the district of Kolar in south Karnataka. Child labour, as seen against the perspective of this study, is different from the work in which children are engaged in households. “It is not always true that they have left school for work, if not they would have continued their studies”, he adds. He states there are other reasons for dropping out. Irrespective of caste and class differences, children are engaged in household activities. But it is more among households from lower classes. However, even among the upper castes and classes, children are engaged in household activities. Working for wages is prevalent in the lower castes. Ignorance and illiteracy of parents are the supportive factors for child labour in the area studied. They hold a pessimistic view of the benefits of education. This has led to increase in the drop-out rate, temporarily though, as children’s assistance is sought in a variety of household and farm-based activities.
There is absence of an environment to inculcate in the minds of parents, the value of education. Therefore, despite being at school, children lack discipline, study habits, etc and can be easily distracted from studies by many forces working in the opposite direction. They include other children who are drop-outs. Pa-rental attention is lacking in many cases where poverty and landlessness have driven the parents to work outside the village and for long hours. Girl children are obliged to assume adult roles like house-keeping when the mother is away at work. Restriction on girls’ education is strong as the village lacks its own school facility. Early marriage of girls is another reason behind drop-out. Girls are expected to learn household duties at a young age.
Single parent households perceive children’s earnings as quite essential since they depend on them for survival. Such households are common because of the other parent having migrated owing to persisting drought in the district. In broken families, in the absence of an adult to take care of children’s needs and wellbeing, older children tend to the younger ones. Thus, incidence of child labour is high in such cases. There is a sharp contrast in exploitation of educational opportunities between the rich and the poor from the same village. Convent education is sought after by the rich, while the poor find infrastructure at the local school bad and poor.
Child workers are present among all castes and communities. However, their incidence was high among the SC and ST communities. Engaging the children in household and farm-related activities was on the low side amongst the upper castes. The most important reason for the prevalence of child labour is poverty. This is reflected in children accompanying the adults to the farm, for cattle rearing and for certain non-economic activities. Among the upper classes, children were used only for household work if they were girls and for agriculture and related activities if they were boys. However, parents in such cases ensured that the children did not miss their school. Thus they worked only before and after school hours and not for money. Among the lower classes and castes, children undertook employment to contribute to household income. However, some households from the lower class have preferred to send their children to school, instead of jobs. This speaks of the rising mobility aspiration among such households.